What do songs, books and movies all have in common? The answer is simple. They tell a story regardless of whether it’s in three minutes, three hundred pages or two hours.
I am an author. But before deciding to write a series of true stories, I wrote songs, poetry, short stories and screen plays. I am convinced that once bitten by the writing bug, you never quite recover. You only move on to different methods of telling your tales.
Some of the greatest stories are told through a three to four minute song. Appalachian and American folk music is a great example of that. Most of the songs told of hard times, death and destruction. My Aunt Evelyn used to sing about the Legend of the Haunted Wood which told a story of a man, his wife and children who lived on the banks of a river. One day, he rode into town and left them alone in the cabin. While he was gone, Indians came, attacked his wife and burned the cabin to the ground with her and the children inside. He roamed the river banks looking for them long after he’d died. What a tragic tale! But, that is only one example.
Prisoners who worked on chain gangs often sang songs in rhythm with the swinging of an ax handle or sledge hammer. Oftentimes, they made up the words as they went, with some songs winding up quite long.
Then along came songwriters like Johnny Cash. Ever listen to The Ballad of Ira Hayes? What a story that song tells. The rise and fall of a lowly Pima Indian that is forever preserved in history as one of the men who raised the flag on Iowa Jima then died drunk in a ditch beside the road at the ripe old age of thirty-two. And, that’s just one small example.
How about The Gambler? To me that is the ultimate story song. Within the first few lines of any of this song, the listener has already formed a visual of what the song is about. On a warm summer’s evening on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with a gambler. We were both too tired to sleep… The picture is perfectly clear.
How about this one? Got a helpless, hopeless feeling like a bird that can’t fly. Of a man not living but one who can’t die. Hating, hurting, staring, look at these ol’ walls forty foot high… Those are the first lines to a song, Forty Foot High, written by Rick Sikes, who was an inmate in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Immediately, we feel the gripping emotion of the man trapped behind massive walls. For this man, music was his salvation. I wrote his story in my second book, The Convict and the Rose, which won the 2015 book of the year award in the Biography Fiction category from the Texas Association of Authors.
It’s not possible to list all of the great story songs that have been written nor the songwriters who composed them. It would take volumes.
Let’s talk about movies. Think about your all-time favorite. How does it start? Are you hooked from the opening lines? For me, Lonesome Dove is one of those unforgettable movies that drew me in from the beginning. And, who doesn’t know a line or two from Gone With The Wind? Can you tell me what movie this line is from? “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” Yes, The Godfather. I can get very emotionally invested in the characters. Why? Because of the story being told through them.
Movies, songs and books with the greatest staying power are the ones that make us feel and think. They touch something deep within us or change us in some way.
In my books, I relate the story of a veteran Texas musician who packed out every dance hall, honky-tonk and auditorium in the great State of Texas, surrounding states and on out to California for many years. He was a true pioneer of what we now call Outlaw music. But, as songwriter, Richard Dobson, wrote in a song about him, “he took that outlaw thing a little far” when he wound up in Leavenworth prison on two counts of armed bank robbery.
These stories all revolve and evolve around music. For that reason, I also release a music CD of original songs along with each book matching the time period of that story segment.
Any lover of music or a real life story will be entertained by these books and that’s a guarantee.
So, back to the beginning – a story is a story – no matter the medium through which it is told, it has the same characteristics and evokes emotion in the reader, listener or viewer.
And we all enjoy a good story!